THURSDAY, April 1, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A kind of protein called nerve growth factor, or NGF, helped damaged heart muscles function better in mice, potentially pointing the way toward more effective treatments for people who have heart problems, researchers say.
The findings come from the first study to investigate whether NGF can heal heart cells. Previous research explored how it affects nerves in the heart.
"It is the latest investigation to indicate that growth factors affect more than just the body part for which they are named," study senior author Costanza Emanueli, an associate professor at the University of Bristol in England and a British Heart Foundation senior research fellow, said in a news release from the American Heart Association. "The most significant result was that NGF gene therapy improved post-heart attack survival."
In the study, published in the April 1 issue of Circulation Research, researchers studied the effects of NGF after surgery. Emanueli and colleagues found that the factor and a receptor to which it binds are found in normal and damaged heart muscle tissue; damaged human hearts have higher levels of the factor than healthy ones.
"We may have identified a novel factor able to improve heart attack patient survival or delay heart failure after an attack," Emanueli said. However, "it is important to perform further studies of the full biological function and therapeutic potential of NGF."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on heart disease.